Two recent studies have shone a huge light on how weight issues can have an overwhelming effect on children, to the point of developing an eating disorder they will struggle with for the rest of their lives. But it’s interesting to note that it’s not the weight itself that’s the problem – but rather, how the overweight child is treated by other people. These studies show how both the peer groups and parents of overweight children play an important part in how the child deals with that weight issue.
Dr Timothy D. Nelson at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studied hundreds of public schools students between the ages of 8 and 12. “We tend to think of adolescence as the time when kids become sensitive about their body image, but our findings suggest that the seeds of body dissatisfaction are actually being sown much earlier. Criticism of weight, in particular, can contribute to issues that go beyond general problems with self-esteem.”
He says that overweight children who had suffered weight-based criticism are much harsher when judging themselves than those who weren’t bullied about their weight. As a result, these negative self-views create a much higher risk of developing an unnatural relationship with food, irregular eating behaviours and ongoing victimisation.
Nelson has also noticed how weight-related criticism is the last socially acceptable forms of teasing, as though overweight people deserve it, “or that if they are continually prodded about their weight, they’ll do something about it. In fact, our research suggests that this kind of criticism tends to increase the victim’s body dissatisfaction,” leading to greater problems with weight management – rather than less.
In another study at the University of North Texas, it appears that parents of overweight or obese children are less likely to help their offspring when it comes to paying for college or helping them buy a car. The study carefully ruled out gender and income as explaining the relationship between the weight of their children and financial help. Researcher Adriel Boals suggests this parental behaviour may simply reflect society’s tendency to discriminate against heavier people – but he also doesn’t think parents do this knowingly.
Either way, there’s a clear message being uncovered by this and other research – that weight-based criticism only harms your children. My own personal experiences agree with this and as anybody who’s had a weight problem will know – being told you need to lose weight doesn’t help you lose anything except self-esteem and confidence.
For more on eating disorders, read my post Causes of Obesity Part 3 – Eating Disorders Start Young.
1 University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2010, September 24). Teasing about weight can affect pre-teens profoundly, study suggests.ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 17, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100907163521.htm
- Overweight kids’ body image takes pounding from bullies (mnn.com)
- Internalized Fat Phobia (psychologytoday.com)